Beethoven: Symphony n.4 – mov.1 [analysis]

Last updated Jan 30, 2024 | Published on Oct 20, 2020

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.
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Table of contents

Introduction

1806, the year the 4th symphony was born, was a particularly intense one for Beethoven. The rising popularity of his music put the composer in a state of feverish composing: these are the years of the Appassionata piano sonata, the violin concerto, the 4th piano concerto, the Razumovskij quartets.

It can’t be excluded that his inspiration was fueled also by his immortal beloved, aka, perhaps, countess Therese von Brunswick.
Regardless, Beethoven finished his fourth symphony in the fall of 1806. Its premiere took place on March 7, 1807, conducted by Beethoven himself at the Lobkowitz Palace in Vienna.

Compared to his 3rd symphony, the Eroica, the fourth goes back to a late 1800s form: it’s much less emphatic and heroic in spirit, and its dimensions are much more contained. What it does keep is the melodic invention and the process of development of the various motives. Plus, naturally, one of Beethoven’s most common fingerprints: the rhythm.

This symphony was beloved by the romantic composers: Mendelssohn programmed it in his opening concert in 1835 with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

Schumann, as mentioned,  called it the “slender Greek maiden between two Nordic giants“, referring to the 3rd and 5th symphony.

Scheherazade by Édouard Frédéric Wilhelm Richter (1844-1913)

Beethoven around 1804 painted by Willibrord Joseph Mähler 

Beethoven Symphony n.4: an analysis of the 1st movement

Exposition

Adagio

From a structural point of view, we are in a typical sonata form: an exposition with 2 contrasting themes, a development, and a recapitulation. Everything is framed by a slow introduction and a coda.

Beethoven 4th is pervaded by a joie de vivre, and by a plethora of luminous and dynamic themes. However, that’s not immediately clear: the introductory Adagio opens in a static and suspended atmosphere.

Beethoven symphony n.4 mov. 1 analysis - ex.1

This introduction begins on a double articulation: the woodwinds plus the horns with a pedal affirm the tonic (B flat) while the strings develop a creepy descending line on intervals of thirds: Gb-Eb, F-Db, Eb-C and finally Db-Bb.
It’s all very unsettling: the symphony is in Bb major but here we are clearly in a minor key.

On measure 5 the Gb returns moving towards the F (the dominant) with which the second part of this first section of the introduction opens: this tentative line anticipates what will happen in the Allegro.

Beethoven symphony n.4 mov. 1 analysis - ex.2

The second entry of the introduction on the tonic comes with an imperative fp

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Notes

Cover image by Lucas Craig from Pexels

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Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

Harold Farberman

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